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Old May 5th, 2015, 09:42 PM
JAshley JAshley is offline
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Compact system cameras explained: 10 things every new photographer must know

Compact system cameras explained: 1. They were first launched in 2008

The first compact system camera was launched by Panasonic in September 2008 at the Photokina trade show in Cologne, Germany. Named the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1, it was also the first Micro Four Thirds camera. This was followed by the Olympus Pen E-P1 in June the following year. Within the next couple of years Sony and Samsung also introduced compact system cameras, beating Canon and Nikon to the market.

Compact system cameras explained: 2. They have no mirror

The most significant difference between a compact system camera and an SLR is that a CSC doesn’t have a reflex mirror to bounce the image from the lens into a viewfinder. This is why CSC’s are often referred to as mirrorless cameras.

This, and the fact that it allows the lens mount to be moved closer to the sensor, enables compact system cameras to be made smaller than SLRs.

The ‘system’ element of the name stems from the fact that a compact system camera can accept interchangeable lenses – it’s part of a system.

Compact system cameras explained: 3. They are permanently in Live View mode

Because there’s no mirror to reflect light into a viewfinder, a CSC uses the information from the imaging sensor to create an image in an electronic viewfinder or the main screen on the back of the camera. It works in a similar way to an SLR in Live View mode.

Not all compact system cameras have a viewfinder, but if one does it’s usually an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Fuji is unique in offering compact system cameras that have both electronic and optical viewfinders, but they use a rangefinder-style system.

Compact system cameras explained: 4. What you see is what you get

A key benefit of using an electronic viewfinder or a CSC’s screen to compose images is that they show the impact of camera settings. This means that if you reduce the exposure you’ll see the image get darker, if you change the white balance setting you’ll see a change in image colour and if you switch to black and white mode you’ll see a monochrome image – all before the shot is taken.

One of the problems with early electronic viewfinders was that their refresh rate was quite low and this resulted in some lag when the subject or camera moved. As a result it could be hard to track moving subjects. Thankfully this is becoming much less of an issue with modern high-end EVFs.

Compact system cameras explained: 5. They use contrast or hybrid AF systems

SLRs have a dedicated autofocus sensor that is uses a phase detection system to focus the lens between exposures, when the reflex mirror is down and the scene can be seen in the optical viewfinder.

Because they don’t have reflex mirrors, compact system cameras can’t use a separate AF sensor so the image sensor is used instead.

At first compact system cameras used contrast detection autofocus systems like the ones found in compact cameras. Initially these were quite slow and really struggled in low light, but manufacturers have put lots of effort into addressing this and CSC autofocusing is much improved.

Some compact system cameras now use a hybrid AF system that combines a contrast detection system with phase detection using dedicated pixels on the sensor for focusing. These are usually faster and more decisive than standard contrast detection systems.

Some are even pretty good in low light and it seems we’re not far away from having a CSC with an AF system than can truly match that of a DSLR.

Compact system cameras explained: 6. They use a variety of sensor sizes

As mentioned earlier, the first compact system cameras were designed using the Micro Four Thirds standard and they had Four Thirds Type sensors. Panasonic and Olympus still use this size sensor in their cameras, but other manufacturers use a variety of different sized devices.

Canon, Fujifilm and Samsung, for example use APS-C format while Nikon uses a smaller, 1-inch type, sensor. Pentax uses the smallest sensors, a 1/1.7-inch device in its Q7 and Q-S1 cameras and a 1/2.3-inch device in the Q10. Meanwhile Sony uses both APS-C and full-frame format sensors, making it the only company to offer full-frame CSCs.

Compact system cameras explained: 7. They have a specific lens mount

With the exception of Panasonic and Olympus, each compact system camera manufacturer uses its own lens mount so only specific lenses can be used with their cameras. There are lenses available from third party manufacturers, but again, it’s essential to ensure that the mount is correct for the camera.

As Panasonic and Olympus both use the same mount on their CSCs, and they’ve been in the market the longest, they have the widest range of optics available. Other manufacturers, especially Sony and Fuji, however, are putting lots of effort into developing their lens line.

Compact system cameras explained: 8. There’s a focal length magnification factor

Just like DSLRs, when a compact system camera has a sensor that’s smaller than full-frame it produces images that look like they were taken with a longer focal length lens than the numbers on the optic may suggest. This because focal length is a fixed measurement, but the framing of the image varies as sensor size changes.

The 1-inch type sensor in a Nikon 1 camera, for example, incurs a 2.7x focal length magnification factor so the 10-30mm kit lens produces images that look similar to those made using a 27-81mm lens on a full-frame camera.

Compact system cameras explained: 9. Exposure is controlled in the same way as an SLR

Just like an SLR, exposure is controlled using shutter speed, aperture and sensitivity. As usual, any or all of these can be controlled automatically by the camera, or the photographer can take manual control. Most CSCs offer aperture priority, shutter priority and manual exposure modes along with a collection of automatic options.

Compact system cameras explained: 10. Their controls can be modern or traditional

Some compact system cameras, such as the tiny Panasonic GM5, rely heavily on touch-screen control whereas others have the full gamut of physical control dials and buttons. Some, like the Samsung NX1 and Panasonic GH4, have the best of both worlds with a comprehensive set of physical controls as well as a touch-screen.

Meanwhile, Fujifilm has a very popular range of cameras that use traditional controls with shutter speed dials and aperture rings. The Fuji X-T1, which has proved especially popular, also has dedicated dials for setting sensitivity and exposure compensation. These controls allow exposure settings to be set and checked even when the camera is turned off.

By Angela Nicholson @ Digital Camera World
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